With thanks to Sam Kinsley who translated this introduction and put it on his blog on September 23 2015
Sam Kinsley translated also Bernard Stiegler’s Preface and Dirk Holeman’s Postface to Michel Bauwens and Jean Lievens’ book Sauver le Monde: Vers une société post-capitaliste avec le peer-to-peer [To Save the World: towards a post-capitalist society with peer-to-peer].
“We do not live in a changing age, but rather a change of age”
Professor Jan Rotmans
(Professor of the Theory and Management of Transition,
Erasmus University Rotterdam)
It would be pointless to try to convince the reader of a book entitled To Save the World that life on Earth, as we understand it today, is in peril. Following a recently published study in the journal Nature Climate Change, more that half of terrestrial plants and the habitats of around a third of animals will disappear because of climate change if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at the current rate. Scientists at the renowned Global Footprint Network (an international laboratory of ideas that measures ecological sustainability using ‘ecological footprints’) have calculated that, at present, we will need a planet and a half to maintain the current global economy. Furthermore, the growth rate required to maintain this system until 2053 would require the global economy to quadruple. In this case, we would need six planets. One does not need to be genius to understand that endless growth on a finite planet is a scientific nonsense and we are heading for a crash. Faced with this bleak perspective for the future, there are different ways to react: simple denial, to resign ourselves to it, or to attempt to do something about it.
To change the world, we can draw inspiration from the past, but we need a new way of addressing the challenges of the future. Michel Bauwens brings us such a vision. Not the visions, but a vision. The title of this book thus reflects a certain arrogance inconsistent with his character. Indeed, very intelligent people are often very modest, because they are very conscious of their own limitations. But who is Michel Bauwens? Beneath the title “The most stimulating Belgian thinker is an unknown philosopher” in the newspaper De Morgen (on the 23rd March 2012) presents him as follows:
“Do you know Michel Bauwens? Perhaps not. This 54-year-old cyberphilosopher is not well known. Bauwens is the first Belgian to figure in a list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He finds himself in the illustrious company of people such as Mahatma Ghandi (9), Martin Luther King (24), The Dalai Lama (28), Thomas Malthus (55) and John Kenneth Galbraith (70). Bauwens occupies 82nd place, a few rungs above Eleanor Roosevelt (87).”
The list referred to in De Morgen, “The (En)Rich List”, is a table of 100 people established by the Post Growth Institute, an international group of scientists that lobby for a sustainable society in which prosperity can be created without a need for economic doctrine [besoin de croissance économique]. The list of the “most enriching people” is a foil [clin d’œil – literally “a wink”, could be translated to ‘a nod’] to the 100 “richest people” in the world, published annually by the American financial magazine Forbes.
Cyberphilosopher, futurologist, economist, researcher, conference convener, entrepreneur… These are some of the epithets given to Michel Bauwens by journalists. Wikipedia designates him as a “peer-to-peer theorist”, and he describes himself in this book as a commentator and thinker attempting to forge a coherent link between the theories, hypotheses and explications of peer-to-peer, and to do so in the most ethical way possible.
So what is ‘peer-to-peer’ (abbreviated to P2P)? This is a term not well known or understood outside of the world of IT enthusiasts and geeks, nevertheless the collaborative economy, forged through networks of peers, has rapidly gained in popularity throughout our countries. A year before the publication of that short article in De Morgen, the Dutch-language Belgian newspaper De Tijd (on the 23rd April 2013) published a detailed interview with Michel, across a double-page spread. Little by little, he has gained notoriety even in his country of birth. As is often the case, local recognition comes on the back of an international breakthrough, and not vice versa. It is well-known that: “No one is a prophet in their own country” [«Nul n’est prophète en son pays» – this is an idiom that some suggest traces back to the apostles Luke and Matthew].
About this book
This book is the outcome of twelve Skype interviews, of around an hour each, between January and February 2014. If I had arranged twelve more hours, if someone else had interviewed Michel, this would have been a different book. In any case, our aim is to share with you some ideas at the heart of peer-to-peer, production between peers, in the hope of inspiring you to further your understanding through other lectures, books and studies. As this book contains a number of important new and uncommon terms (for example, you may have already struggled with the term ‘peer-to-peer’ in the subtitle of this book), we have created a glossary that is situated at the end of the book.
Personally, I think that politicians, whether on the right or the left, have a tendency to see the future [l’avenir] through the rear-view mirror. Just as Marxism is an ideological construct of the 19th century, liberalism and nationalism find their origins in the 18th century. From a historical perspective these ideologies each have respective values but they no longer offer a response to the enormous difficulties that confront us today. This is also expressed in the way that politicians are unable to offer solutions. Not only because the political class tends to defend the status quo and their vested interests but also because many of the problems can only be solved at a global scale and thus local authorities are powerless. This certainly does not mean that nothing is possible at a local level, quite the contrary. On those occasions when everything is paralysed at national and international levels, only local level action allows real progress. This is reflected in particular by increased urbanisation (since the beginning of the 21st century more than a half of the global population has lived in towns and cities), or what Eric Corijn calls the emergence of “urbanity” as new form of post-national society, but also by the development of peer-to-peer mechanisms through which a number of people take their fate into their own hands by launching new projects from within the very institutional framework with which they have often clashed. In the face of the pessimism of the political world, there is optimism within the science of peer-to-peer. This is why solutions will come first from civil society.
We live in an era of enormous possibilities, but also of contradictions and gigantic obstacles to the full realisation of those possibilities. Machines have releaved us of a large part of manual labour (and increasingly of intellectual labour), but the automisation of production processes has not translated into the redistribution or the reduction of working time. Financial markets, often governed by mathematical algorithms upon which no one has a grip, have a greater impact than governments upon our lives. Our parliaments vote for laws that render collaboration and sharing illegal. Our economic model is founded upon the absurd idea of material abundance and immaterial rarity. We behave as if the world was limitless and exploit it to the utmost, to the point of jeopardizing the survival of the human species. Furthermore, we use copyright and patents to build artificial barriers around human knowledge to complicate sharing and collaboration as much as possible. Yet, from the society of the industrial revolution emerged new models and ways of working, heralding a new society. Thus, today, in the words of the Dutch Scientist Jan Rotmans: “We do not live in an era of change but in a change of era”.
The emerging model of peer-to-peer, inspired by the open source movement, seeks to circumvent the false logic of material scarcity and the artificial scarcity of the immaterial. In the apparent tangle of new phenomena such as the collaborative economy, peer-to-peer networks, open source, crowd-sourcing, FabLabs, micro-factories, the “maker” movement, urban agriculture and so on, Michel Bauwens sees a model that leads us to a post-capitalist society, in which the market finally submits to the logic of the commons (the common good). This book is a first attempt to articulate ideas concerning peer-to-peer formulated by Michel Bauwens. It is not simply the result of the reflections of a single person but rather the collective inteilligence of a growing minority of active pioneers who are developing and revealing thousands of projects and experiences amongst peers. Hopefully they will be an inspiration for all who are active in this area and work to build a new world, starting with what affects us directly.
9th July 2013